Finding good Southern cuisine outside of the South can feel like an impossible task. Even with so many restaurants that claim to offer authentic Southern barbecue, it’s rare the meals taste like something you could order up in Georgia or Tennessee.
If you’ve been searching for it out in northern Nevada, the good news is Sparks is home to a barbecue joint that truly gets it right. M&M Southern Café offers up an eclectic menu of those Southern specialties you just don’t find everywhere—alligator, anyone?—as well as the tastiest ribs and fried chicken this side of the Mississippi (or at least this side of the connector).
M&M Southern Café came to me as a recommendation. A friend’s coworker suggested it after learning of my love for Southern fare. After I made it to the faraway land that is Sparks (it’s 20 minutes from my house) I was not disappointed. There will be several additional trips to the small eatery, which is housed in an uneventful strip mall not far from Victorian Square.
In addition to the regular menu, which features categories including po’ boy sandwiches, Southern specialties and meat and seafood combos, a board outside and a smaller one on the counter announce specials (and items that have been 86’d). That’s how I learned this little café not only whips up fried alligator sticks and frog legs, but it also serves oxtails.
If you’re looking to try the truly unusual or can’t wait to get your hands on chitterlings (available in fall) and hush puppies without leaving the region, the Southern specialties section of the menu is for you. For your more fun-of-the-mill Southern fare, the Southern lunch & dinner section will serve you best.
On first visit, I opted for the rib basket because I feel ribs are an easy way to judge just how good a place is. The three-rib basket, which sounded like more than enough food for lunch, left me wanting more—and not because the portion was small. The ribs were juicy and cooked to perfection, but also smothered in the house barbecue sauce, leaving a puddle even after I finished and attempted to lap it all up.
Most meals are choose-your-own-side combos, so I chose a small cup of macaroni and cheese and a couple of hush puppies. The macaroni is divine—slathered in cheese sauce the same way the ribs are soaked in sauce. I’m not sure what the seasoning combination used is, but it certainly worked well, whatever it was. The creamy noodles are bigger (not elbow macaroni) and you can taste the homemade quality of each bite.
The hush puppies were equally delicious in flavor, but texture-wise left a little to be desired. Not soft or fluffy, they were perhaps slightly overcooked or maybe just not a fresh batch when I wandered in for lunch.
820 Holman Way, Sparks, NV 89431
Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
After ordering at the counter, food is packed up and brought to you. Patrons choose between dining indoors or taking their styrofoam container to-go. (Rest assured, the food holds up even if you have a way to drive home.) Served with a red checkered paper, even the presentation seems to fit the bill for true Southern cuisine. It’s no-fuss plating because the food is good enough not to need it.
It’s clear when you visit that M&M is perhaps Sparks’ best-kept secret. The clientele seems to be very friendly with staff, and many are likely members of Second Baptist Church in Reno where the owner, Mitch Moore, is a pastor, hence why the establishment is closed on Sundays. Note it’s closed on Mondays, too.
The food above is just a small sampling of what M&M offers, from fried catfish and hot link sandwiches to shrimp po’ boys and oysters (when available). There is certainly enough variety to go around, and we’ll be back to give the fried chicken a go next time around, if I can keep myself from re-ordering those ribs.
Editor’s Note: If you attended the Reno-Tahoe Blues Festival in the past, the M&M crew was the main food vendor at the event.
Nora Heston Tarte is a long-time Reno resident living on the southside of town. In addition to food, her hobbies include wine, hiking, yoga and travel. She is also the managing editor of a regional, lifestyle publication and freelances for other publications most frequently in the travel space. She graduated from California State University Sacramento with a bachelor’s in English and is pursuing her master’s in Professional Journalism as we speak. You can follow her travel adventures, and local exploits, on her Instagram account @wanderlust_n_wine.